Health chiefs back heart unit ruling

St James's Hospital, Leeds....tues 25th july 2005'Neil McKay Chief Executive
St James's Hospital, Leeds....tues 25th july 2005'Neil McKay Chief Executive

HEALTH experts have defended their decision to close a children’s heart unit.

It was announced on July 4 that the children’s heart unit at Leeds General Infirmary was to close meaning children living in the Brighouse area will now have to travel to Newcastle or Liverpool.

Families are upset about the decision and have vowed to continue fighting.

The decision follows the Safe and Sustainable clinically-led review of services, one of the largest consultations in NHS history.

Sir Neil McKay CB, chairman of the joint committee of Primary Care Trusts, said it was a landmark decision that clinicians and patients have long called for and would enable the NHS to improve care for children with congenital heart disease.

“The needs of children, not the vested interest of hospitals, have been at the heart of this review,” he said. “We only took the decision after undergoing a robust, fair and transparent process which has already withstood the scrutiny of the highest courts in the land.

“Before making our decision, we carefully considered the responses to public consultation and all the available evidence and advice.

“Parents, patients and clinicians told us consistently during consultation that quality of care should be the most important factor, so hospitals’ ability to meet the new national quality standards was foremost in our minds when coming to this decision.

“We recognise these are difficult decisions to make, and that some people will be disappointed to lose their nearest surgical centre. However, we strongly believe our decision is in the best interests of all children and will ensure services are safe and sustainable for the future.”

Dr Hilary Cass, president of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, said there were too many small heart surgery units where low levels of staffing meant resources were spread too thinly.

“This means surgeons aren’t gaining the experience that comes from seeing a variety of patients resulting in some children failing to receive the best specialist treatment.

“We firmly believe that having fewer, world class specialist surgical centres - and day-to-day care available closer to home - will lead to better survival rates as well as better overall care for children.

“While I understand that parents obviously want the best possible health care for their child, it is much better to have the right service further away, than the wrong service situated on your doorstep.”